To the river’s end

To the River's EndTo the River’s End by Lawrence G. Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was at school, some 60 or so years ago. I found it in the school library, and thought it was OK. My main memory of that reading was that it was there that I first learnt about the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. I had never heard of the Augrabies Falls before, which, according to the book, were higher and had a greater volume of water than the Victoria Falls and the Niagara Falls, which weveryone in the school knew about. But no one else at the school had heard of the Aughrabies Falls either.

I thought that one day I would like to visit the Aughrabies Falls, and about 25 years ago I did. They were impressive. I still haven’t visited the Victoria Falls or the Niagara Falls, and probably never will, but with the possibility that we may pay a second visit to the Aughrabies Falls later this year, I took this book out of the City of Tshwane municipal library and read it again.

The second reading was very different from the first. The first reader was a schoolboy who had never been to any of the places described, and could only imagine what they were like. I had to picture it like the land of Mordor in a work of fiction (which I only read abouot 10 years later, in 1966).

On the second reading I had visited several of the places described in the book, and so the second reading was a reminder of places I have known. The second reading was also after we had embarked on the study of family history, and Lawrence G. Green mentions relatives of mine or my wife’s in this and several others of his books. His anecdotes are not always accurate, but they are nevertheless informative and entertaining.

How does one characterise Lawrence G. Green‘s books? He is a journalist, travel writer, amateur historian, gossip and raconteur. He has a journalist’s nose for the news, and so in his travels he makes notes of stories, not just current news, but old news, news of years ago, stories that are, as he puts it in the title of one of his books, Almost forgotten never told.

I come to this book now with a more critical eye. Not only have I researched the family history (and so know that some of the details of his stories about our relatives are inaccurate), but I’ve also studied general history and historiography, and so am on my guard for evidence of racism or colonialist propaganda, which are evident in many books written by white people about history and travel in southern Africa in the first half o0f the 20th century. There is some, but less than I expected. In describing the wars of the German colonial rulers of Namibia with the Bondelswarts tribe, he notes several instances of the Bondelswarts chivalrous behaviour, trying to avoid civilian casualties, leaving a note of apology on the body of a military medical officer they had shot by mistake, as they had not noticed his medical badgges until it was too late, and saying they would not shoot unarmed doctors. The Germans, representatives of Western “civilization”, on the other hand, were carrying out wars of extermination in that period (1904-1908).

Green begins his story a bit away from the river, at Union’s End, the remote boundary marker where the borders of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa meet, now part of the Transfrontier Kalahari Park. I haven’t been to Union’s End, but I have travelled through the Kalahari Gemsbook National Park from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata, up the dry and dusty valley of the Auob River, on my first visit to Namibia in 1969.

I did not know, having forgotten from the first reading, that there was a settlement of Basters there, different from those of Rehoboth, who once had a shortlived Republic of Mier.

Of course there is the description of the Aughrabies Falls, though when Green visited in the 1930s he had to swim streams to get to where he could see the falls, whereas when we went there in 1991 there were bridges.

Aughrabies Falls, 8 April 1991

Aughrabies Falls, 8 April 1991

He describes the history of Onseepkans, where we crossed into Namibia in 1991, a year after it became independent, when the border officials were still housed in prefabs and tents. I took the name to indicate that some travellers who had crossed the hot and dry plains of Bushmanland, south of the river (which Green also describes) had taken the opportunity to wash their hair in the river, and washed the soap out too. But apparently the name is derived from a Hottentot word, meaning the drinking place for cattle.

The Orange River at Onseepkans, halfway between South Africa and Namibia. Namibia on the left, South Africa on the right. 8 April 1991

The Orange River at Onseepkans, halfway between South Africa and Namibia. Namibia on the left, South Africa on the right. 8 April 1991

Green tells some of the history of the mission station at Pella, which we have not visited, but may visit later this year, where Roman Catholic missionaries, with no knowledge of building at all, constructed a large cathedral.

Green also describes Goodhouse, where a relative, Abraham Morris, seems to have worked at one time, probably in the early 1920s. Green gives more information about Abraham Morris in another book, So few are free, and you can read more about the Morris family here. If we travel this way again in August, we hope to see more of the places where these families passed on their overland journeys between Damaraland and Cape Town, and also to do some more research on them in the Cape Archives.

So the second read was much more interesting than the first, partly because I have been to some of the places mention in the book, and we hope to see some of those he mentions that we have never seen before.

So I recommend this book to anyone who has travelled in the Northern Cape or southern Namibia, or who is planning to. Others might find it interesting too, as I did when I read it the first time.

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So few are free

So few are freeSo few are free by Lawrence George Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lawrence G. Green‘s books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.

This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the “Diamond Road” and the Skeleton Coast.

As I’ve already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.

We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, “To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen.”

Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.

I’ve been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.

Abraham Morris’s mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val’s ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us — but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham’s father.

This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.

One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.

Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.

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Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland by Ione Rudner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this “life and letters” book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.

All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.

It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.

Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson’s arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.

Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.

My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.

The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as “ten years of hell”. After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson.

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Fred & Mary Greene

One of the things that was missing from our family history was a picture of Val’s great grandparents, Fred and Mary Greene. A few weeks ago, however, Jean Mary Gray sent us one. Jean’s grandmother, Connie Semple, was the half-sister of Frederick Vincent Greene.

Frederick Vincent Greene (1868-1949) and his wife Mary Frances  Crighton (1868-1957)

Frederick Vincent Greene (1868-1949) and his wife Mary Frances Crighton (1868-1957)

Frederick Vincent Greene was the son of Frederick Thomas Green, the Canadian elephant hunter, trader and partisan leader in Damaraland in the mid-19th century. He was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, on 21 November 1868. His mother was Catherine Agnes Ann (Kate)  Stewardson, who was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay (now part of Namibia).

After Frederick Thomas Green died in 1876, his widow, Kate Stewardson, married George Robb. With her two husbands she had at least 17 children, of whom only five survived to adulthood. So Fred Greene (Junior) had two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Green (1865-1952) who married Frederick Thomas Abbott, and Alice Isabella Green (1871-1945) who married John Martin Cuthbert O’Grady.

He also had three half-sisters, one from his father’s earlier wife, and two from his mother’s later husband (it gets complicated).

The eldest half-sister was Ada Maria Green (1864-1926), born at Otjimboro, Angola, of Frederick Thomas Green’s second wife, Sara ua Kandendu (his first wife was a Dixon, name unknown). Ada, also known as Ida and Kaera, was the ancestor of Mburumba Kerina, the inventor of the name “Namibia” (“Kerina” was the Herero pronunciation of “Green”).

Frederick Vincent Greene’s other two half sisters were the children of his mother, Kate Stewardson, and her second husband George Robb. They were Agnes Mary Elizabeth Robb (1878-1959) who married Charles Ernest Peers, a Cape Town artist, and Constance Sweetingham (Connie) Robb (1889-1964) who married John Semple, and is the grandmother of Jean Gray who sent us the photo.

Frederick Vincent Greene was 7 years old when his father died, and was brought up by his mother and stepfather, who moved to the Cape Colony about 1881 or 1882, and later moved to Johannesburg. At some point he married Mary Frances Crighton — we don’t know when or where, but their first child, Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Greene, was born in Ladysmith, Natal, in 1890. His father, Fred Vincent, was shown in the Anglican baptism register there was a “mechanical engineer”.

Mary Frances Crighton was the daughter of William John Crighton and Anna Maria MacLeod of Cape Town, where the family were saddlers and leather merchants. On her mother’s side there were also Canadian links, as her grandmother, Mary Kerwick, like Fred Vincent Greene’s father, was born in Quebec. See here for more on the Crighton family.

They had eight children, but they are the generation we know least about.

  • Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Greene (1890-?)
  • Charles Stanhope Greene (1891-?)
  • Arthur Walpole Francis Greene (c1893-c1943)
  • Allan Dudley Greene (c1893-c1942)
  • Edward Lester Greene (1897-c1950)
  • Frank Henry Greene (c1899-?)
  • Royden Braithwaite Greene (1905-1971)
  • Gladys Winifred Greene (1907-1997)

Val’s grandfather was Allan Dudley Greene, but he died before she was born, and when her father was a prisoner-of-war in Italy. He died of TB, but Val’s grandmother Emma le Sueur couldn’t remember when it was. She was good at remembering what pills they took and what diseases they died of, but was rather vague about dates and places. But she thought he had died in the King George V Hospital in Sydenham, Durban. So we went there and asked at the reception if they could find the record of someone who had been a patient 30 years before. They found him in the index, and said that because it was so long ago, his admission card would be in the basement. It took them all of 10 minutes to find it. So we got his date of death. We were delighted, because we had just spent the morning hunting through the records of the Master of the Supreme Court in Pietermaritzburg (for which I had to get special permission from the magistrate, being banned at the time) and had found no death notice or any other estate files for him. And we still don’t know when or where he was born.

The family surname was Green and remained so until the First World War. The eldest son, Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Green, changed his name to Greene when he enlisted in the army, and someone said it was because he had had a fight with his father. But by the end of the war all the sons were using the Greene spelling, and the father was too.

Some members of the family refer to the eldest son as Fred Skelm, because there are all kinds of rumours about him. He was arrested in South West Africa in the 1930s for illegal diamond prospecting in the Kaokoveld, and banged up in Outjo for a while. He claimed that he was heir to the land on which he was prospecting because it had belonged to his grandfather Frederick Thomas Green. His story was perhaps not as far-fetched as it may have seemed to the magistrate at the time, because his aunt Ada (Kaera) had sued the South West Africa Company for a farm that the German colonial government had given to the Company, which she maintained that the Herero chief, Samuel Maharero, had given to her father for her. She won her case too, and the deed, signed by the Herero chiefs’ council, may perhaps be the first written title deed in Namibia.

Fred Skelm seems to have married several times, and may or may not have had children by some of his wives, One story was that he worked on a mine somewhere in America, murdered someone, and escaped on a railway handcranked inspection truck. Another said he was run over by a bus in Clairwood, Durban, and yet another that it was in London.

The second son, Charles Stanhope Green was baptised in Johannesburg in 1892 when he was a year old, but we don’t know where he was born. He disappears after that. Perhaps he died young.

Arthur Walpole Francis Greene, the third (or possibly fourth) son was married in 1915 to Margaret McLaren, who left him 2 days later. He was said to have been drowned when the ship he was travelling on was torpedoed in WWII. Edward Lester Greene had a son Lester Frederick, who went farming in Zimbabwe. Frank Henry Greene went overseas as a soldier in World War I, but while in England was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment for stealing articles from a house. He apparently committed suicide at about the age of 25.

Roydon Brathwaite Green changed all three of his names, becoming Royden Braithwaite Greene. He was born in Johannesburg and lived in Port Elizabeth.

The youngest child of Fred and Mary Green was Gladys Winifred Greene, who married twice. We found that she was living in Ixopo, and Val went to visit we with her father, who was thus meeting his aunt for the first time. She was the one who first told us about the Namibian connection, which enabled us to find Fred Green the elephant hunter in the history books, though several of them erroneously referred to him as Frederick Joseph Green instead of Frederick Thomas Green. Later we met Gladys’s daughter Dion Stewart, who lived in Empangeni when we lived in Melmoth, and she was the first one who told us about the family royal legend, which turned out to be false, but did put us on the track of the real Green family history.

So we were very glad to have the photo, which is the only one we have seen of Fred and Mary Greene.

Adventure in South West Africa 1894-98

Adventure in South West Africa 1894-1898Adventure in South West Africa 1894-1898 by Eberhard Rosenblad

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Memories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een. Captain Een, a Swede, described his life and journeys in central and northern Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s, in partnership with a Swedish trader, Axel Wilhelm Eriksson.

Rosenblad’s book is very similar, but it is set in a period 30 years later. He too was a partner of A.W. Eriksson, and covered much the same ground as Een did.

The main difference is that in Een’s time the country was divided into a number of small states that were sometimes at war with each other. In Rosenblad’s time, it was the German colony of South West Africa. It is interesting, therefore, to read descriptions of the same country by two writers a generation apart.

Quite a lot of the difference in the writing reflects the New Imperialism that swept the world in the 1880s, and led to the Scramble for Africa by the European powers. Germany was a bit late in the Scramble, and got a largely desert country. One of the effects of the New Imperialism was that it gave Europeans in Africa an enormous sense of their own superiority to the native Africans, and of the importance of showing the natives that the white man was the Boss. Even though Sweden was not an imperial power, Rosenblad’s writing reflects this sense of European superiority.

Een was aware of cultural differences, and often compared local cultures unfavourably with his own Swedish culture, but he described them in some detail, and assumed that his readers would be interested in these descriptions. Rosenblad tends to dismiss them as not worth describing, except when he is making a point about the superiority of his own culture. He quite often describes the way of disciplining his own employees, with a sjambok, and giving them a beating. He does not entirely lack compassion, however, and expresses pity for a tribe that resisted German rule and were taken as prisoners of war, but it is pity from a position of superiority, as one might pity an ill-treated animal.

Both Een and Rosenblad admired A.W. Eriksson, and recognised him as a remarkably kind and generous man. But when Een was there, Eriksson was a young man, who had started as an assistant to the Anglo-Swedish trader and explorer C.J. Andersson. Thirty years later he was older and more experienced, and clearly had a good reputation with just about everyone.

Rosenblad’s book is less satisfactory than Een’s in other ways too. Not only does he give less details about the different cultures, but also about the individuals he met. Een gives character sketches of people, and describes something of their lives. Rosenblad often does not even mention their names.

At one point he describes how two German soldiers at Heigamkab discoverered a portmanteau with clothes, books and letters in the Namib desert. The papers revealed that the owner was a Damara (Herero), who had gone to the Cape Colony and studied at a mission institution. He had apparently returned by sea, and decided to walk across the desert rather than waiting for wheeled transport, and then got lost. This supposition was verified when Rosenblad’s party reached the Cape, and he writes,

He had probably lost his way in the darkness and fog. He must have drifted around for some days, suffering all the agonies of hunger and thirst, and then must have lain down to rest expecting the end. So much time had already elapsed when the soldiers found the portmanteau, that it was no use starting a search. Perhaps one day his skeleton will emerge from the treacherous drift-sand and grin at the passerby, but then the memory of this event will already have faded long ago.

But it might not have faded quite so much if Rosenblad (or his editor) had bothered to record his name.

The translators of the book, Jalmar and Ione Rudner, have gone to some trouble to give more information about people who are named in the text, but there is obviously nothing they can do if the names are not mentioned.

One of the reasons we read the book was because of our interest in family history, but apart from A.W. Eriksson himself (a relative by marriage), the lack of names makes the book of little use in that respect. It consists, for the most part, of hunters’ and travellers’ tales, such as are told by hunters around campfires in the evenings. That was their entertainment before satellite TV appeared, but for us the lack of historical detail made them less interesting.

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Memories of several years in south western Africa

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book that paints a picture of life in what is now Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s. It covers several interests of mine, like family history, because the auther was a friend of my wife Val’s great great grandparents, and missiology, because of his comments on the way missionaries behaved then.

Memories of several years in south-western AfricaMemories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.

Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscript holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.

Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.

Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.

He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people — the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described “wagon trains” going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don’t describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.

Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.

So we have Een’s view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators’ notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can’t have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.

All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of ‘das grosse Vaterland’. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation’s flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans… The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren’s victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion… All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives…

Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,

In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.

It little details like these that make Een’s book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.

It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife’s great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. Fred Green married Kate Stewardson, the daughter of Francis and Frances Stewardson.

The translators, in their notes, persist in repeating the errors of several published sources by referring to Francis Stewardson as “Ian” Stewardson (which is a name that was made up for a historical novel), and giving Fred Green’s middle name as Frederick Joseph Green, when it was actually Frederick Thomas Green. I mention this because of the persistence of these errors, which come from relying on secondary sources. The church records, in Namibia and Canada, show that Fred Green’s middle name was Thomas, and the elder Stewardson’s name was Francis, not Ian. Fred Green’s deceased estate file in the Free State Master’s Office also shows his middle name as Thomas, so he didn’t change his name in middle age as some people do.

Een (2004:74) reveals that Fred and Kate Green had another child that we didn’t know about before:

Last among the hunters to arrive [in Ovamboland in November 1866] was Mr Green with with his wife who had been born in Damaraland of English parents. Both of them were ill. Green already had the first symptoms of the fever [malaria] prevailing in the country, which he had first contracted some years ago and which characteristically recurs every year, and then often enough it reappears some time before the period of its general recurrence. Mrs Green could not, of course, be anything other than exhausted and sick as she had had a son some days previously. The child died soon after their arrival here without having been baptized, and was buried without any ceremony at the foot of a fig tree…

Green was an amiable and pleasant gentleman and known as the most proficient hunter in this part of Africa. He did not consider it worthy of a gentleman to shoot elephants from an ambush at night when they came to the water to quench their thirst.

Een goes on to describe the recent death of another Swede, Johan August Wahlberg, who was killed by an elephant when on a hunting expedition with Fred Green. In Wahlberg’s case, he was ambushed by the elephant.

In a couple of places Een refers to Francis and Frances Stewardson’s daughters as beautiful, and one of the last things he did before he left to return to Sweden was to attend the wedding of one of them, Fanny, to another Swedish trader, Axel Whilhelm Eriksson (Een 2004:187).

Eriksson returned from his expedition to Ovamboland in September [1871]. He wasd engaged to one of the beautiful daughters of Mrs Stewardson, and now the wedding was celebrated with the usual pomp and splendour. He marriage ceremony was performed by Missionary Viehe in the meeting-house or school-house of Omaruru, and was attended by a large crowd of black spectators. The bride, dressed in light-blue silk, was radiantly beautiful. There was a big salute [of guns] and the black spectators were given two fat oxen on which they could feast as they pleased.

Sad to say, the marriage ended in divorce 10 years later. Axel Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson had four children, and one of them was named Axel Francis Zeraua Eriksson, presumably after his father, his maternal grandfather, and Chief Zeraua, who was a close friend of Eriksson.

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Drowning in the Okavango: in the steps (and wake) of the brothers Green

In 1855 the brothers Fred and Charles Green sailed up the Okavango River from Lake Ngami in Botswana, and thereafter hunted and traded along it for several years. On our holiday trip we tried to visit some of the places they would have seen along the river and its distributories. Story continued from Across northern Namibia | Notes from underground

After driving from Odibo in Ovamboland and spending the night at the Kaisosi River Lodge near Rundu, Val was up early on the morning of Tuesaday 22 May taking pictures of the sunrise, and the professional photographer we had seen the previous evening was at it again, filming the dugout canoes  crossing the Okavango river, so we got more pictures of boats crossing the river. But there were also some other boats, independent of the photographer.

Crossing the Okavango in a dugout canue, this time not for the photographer

Crossing the Okavango in a dugout canue, this time not for the photographer

There was a busload of German tourists staying at Kaisosi, and they went out on the river in a boat for breakfast.

View over the Okavango River from the dining room of Kaisosi River Lodge

View over the Okavango River from the dining room of Kaisosi River Lodge

The tourist breakfast on the river was a far cry from 160 years ago, when Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green and his brother Charles used to come here. In this part of our journey we were trying to visit some of the places the Green brothers passed through and stayed at back in the 1850s and 1860s. Charles Green was drowned in the Okavango river about 1862, so somewhere along this stretch of river his bones must lie in an unmarked grave.  Perhaps he was travelling in a dugout canoe similar to those in the photos.

Breakfast on the Okavango River

Breakfast on the Okavango River

Charles Green’s fate was perhaps better than that of George Bonfield, who was taken by a crocodile when Fred Green’s boat was overturned by a hippo in 1861, near Andara Island, about 120 km downstream from Rundu. No grave at all for him, marked or unmarked.

The Green brothers were born in Montreal, Canada; Charles was born in 1825, and Fred in 1829. The Green family moved to the Cape Colony when their father, William Green, who was in the commissartiat department of the British army, was transferred there some time in the 1840s. Henry Green, the older brother of Charles and Fred, became British Resident of the Orange River Sovereignty, and his borthers joined him there in about 1852-54. From there Charles and Fred set out on hunting expeditions to Lake Ngami travelling up the Boteti (or Botletle) River with their ox wagons (more about that in a later post).

In 1855 Fred Green (Charles had then gone to Australia) travelled up the Taokhe River from Lake Ngami to Andara with his future brother-in-law Oskar Lindholm and a couple of others. We were now travelling in the opposite direction, the one they took on their return journey

We left Kaisosi River Lodge on Tuesday 21 May 2013, and went into Rundu in search of petrol, and the first garage we tried had none, but a Total garage in the centre of town had some, and we filled up, and set out east for Mukwe.

Shebeen in Rundu

The Put More Fire Shebeen in Rundu

When I last travelled this road over 40 years ago in a Water Affairs Jeep, it was a sandy track, suitable only for four-wheel drive vehicles, and even LandRovers were not allowed to use it, as their track was too narrow, and they would mess them up for larger vehicles. Now it is a tarred highway from near Oshikango to Katima Mulilo, and even our little Toyota Yaris can use it. .

The road from Rundu to Mukwe in 1969, the previous time I travelled along it

The road from Rundu to Mukwe in 1969, the previous time I travelled along it

Here is how I described that earlier journey in my diary (9 September 1969). I was travelling with Reiner Iben, my immediate boss, and we were going round northern Namibia servicing the instruments that measured the watert level in various rivers.

We drove to Grootfontein, where we had a puncture repaired and had breakfast in a cafe. Then we went on to Runtu. At midway there was a “stock control post”, and the bloke there didn’t want to let me in because I didn’t have a permit. But Iben talked him into it [by telling him that I would have to stay with him if he didn’t let me in], and we had coffee with him. We also noticed that one of the Jeep’s rear shock absorbers was hanging loose. On the way to Runtu one of the front ones also broke loose, so we had a very bouncy ride.

Runtu was hot, with a police station and a hospital, and that was about all. It was strange that there should be a police station, because it was supposed to be out of the police zone, but there it was. The Okavango river looked quite beautiful – it was nice to see an ever-flowing river for a change. We had lunch in a rest hut overlooking the river, and then went on to Mukwe, along the river further to the east. On the way we passed a lorry belonging to the roads department, which had broken down, and we called in at their camp, about twenty miles further on, to tell them about it, and we were offered tea. They had a radio, which they used to call for a spare fanbelt for the truck. Beyond the road camp the road deteriorated into a track, all sandy and rather bumpy, and so it was rather unpleasant going along with only two shock absorbers. The broken ones were both on the driver’s side, so Iben, as the senior, made me drive, so he sat in the passenger seat and had the smoother ride. We passed a letter-box, painted red, at the side of the track, looking most incongruous — not that the place was uninhabited, because we passed many grass huts, but it looked unchanged from the nineteenth or probably the eighteenth century, and the letter box seemed to be an anachronism.

The style of the houses was completely different from that in Natal. There is no mud, so they are built of sticks, and each family home has a maze built around its home, with the individual huts, and the kraal, inside the maze. Zulu homes usually have huts arranged in a semi-circle around the kraal, but here the kraal is at the side and everything is connected by passages. We stopped along the road to collect wood, because Iben said there was no wood at Mukwe.

We reached Mukwe at about sunset, and we installed a new instrument just as it was getting dark. The new instrument was an electrical one, which would only require attention every six months. Then we camped and washed in the river and had supper. The river here is even more beautiful than at Runtu, with lots of little islands, and the water is beautifully clear.

It was soon apparent that though the tarred road to the west of Rundu had been built closer to the river, on the east it had been built farther away than the original track, so we turned off and went along the gravel road shown on the map as closer to the river, though I think it was still further away than the original track.

The Kavango style of domestic architecture was similar to that in Ovamboland, but the walls and fences were often built of grass rather than sticks

The Kavango style of domestic architecture was similar to that in Ovamboland, but the walls and fences were often built of grass rather than sticks

We drove down to the Mukwe police station, and I recalled that the water gauging station had been behind it, but we did not get any closer to the river there. The map also showed a petrol station at Mukwe, but we saw no sign of it. There was a sign saying we had entered Andara, and we stopped to take a photo of what we thought was the island.

Andara Island (we think)

Andara Island (we think)

Edward C. Tabler, in his book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland: 1738-1880, describes Fred Green’s first visit here as follow:

Green fell ill at Walvis Bay, which delayed him there. Wahlberg had arrived at the Bay in April 1854, and he and Green (and perhaps Bonfield and Lindholm) travelled to Letsholathebe’s town by 31 May 1855, when J. Chapman and Edwards arrived there from the east. After the departure of Chapman and Edwards for Walvis Bay on 1 August, Green, Wahlberg, Wilson and Lindholm ascended the Taokhe River to Libebe’s, August to November, using Green’s boat and porters. They were forced to leave the boat at some distance below Andara Island because of rapids. They arrived at Libebe’s on 22 October buty had a bad reception, and therefore soon started away. Only Wahlberg visited Andara Island.

Though Tabler lists his sources, he did not say which one he used for this account, and it would be interesting to read the original. Letsholathebe was the ruler  of the Tawana people, who, according to this article, had come to the Lake about 1820, and subjugated the other people living there. Libebe was the ruler of the Hambukushu people who lived in the area in the mid-19th century.

A few kilometres further on we rejoined the we rejoined the tar road where it crossed the river on a bridge to West Caprivi. We saw a garage there, but it had no petrol.

Okavango River just below the Popa rapids

Okavango River just below the Popa rapids

We went on towards the Botswana border at Mohembo, and saw a sign pointing to the Popo falls, which had blocked Fred Green’s progress in his boat, but there was a newly-built gate there, and they would not let us in. They said they were busy upgrading the accommodation. We said we weren’t looking for accommodation, but just wanted to see the rapids, but historical interest must give way to private enterprise and commercialisation, and they would not let us in.

Drotsky's Cabins, near Shakawe in Botswana

Drotsky’s Cabins, near Shakawe in Botswana

A little further on was Divara Lodge, and we stopped there for a very expensive lunch of a toasted ham and cheese sandwich (N$190.00), but it was perhaps worth it for the view of the river. We drove on through a game park, where we saw three zebras, and reached the Namibian border at 3:00 pm, and crossed into Botswana, leaving the border post at 4:28 pm, since Botswana time is an hour ahead of Namibian time.

Okavango River at Drotsky's Cabins

Okavango River at Drotsky’s Cabins

At about 4:55 we reached Shakawe, and looked for petrol there too, but there was none, and we wondered if we might end up being
stranded in Botswana, We reached Drotsky’s Cabins at about 5:20, and checked in to cabin number 9. It was close to the river so we took some photos and went for a beer before supper. There was a dog there who, like our dog Samwise, was crazy about having balls thrown for her. Drotsky’s was very pleasant, but, though the facilities were no better than Kaisosi River Lodge, where we had spent the previous night, it was almost double the price.

Sunrise at Drotsky's Cabins

Sunrise at Drotsky’s Cabins

The next morning (Wednesday 22 May) we were up by 5:30. We took photos of the sun shining through the trees, and after breakfast went on a boat ride up the river. Our boatman was called Salvation, which seemed fairly auspicious, and he first took us a little way downstream to see a colony of bee-eaters nesting in the river bank. There were dozens of holes in the bank where they made their nests, and dozens of birds popping in and out of them, or perched on the branches outside.

Bee eaters

Bee eaters

He then took us close to the bank a little bit further up, to see a small crocodile basking in the sun. The steep bank, about 7-8 feet high, where the cabins were situated, with their thorn trees, turned out to be rather unusual, and soon there were low reed banks on both sides of the river. We mainly wanted to see what Fred Green would have seen when he came up here in a boat, to get a picture of what it was like, but Salvation also took us inshore at various places to see birds and animals, which Fred Green would no doubt also have seen.

Crocodile on the bank of the Okavango River

Crocodile on the bank of the Okavango River

At one point we saw a snake eagle, and then a couple of fish eagles, and Salvation threw a couple of pieces of fish in the water so we could see how they swooped down to scoop them up. I found it difficult to take photos with the digital camera, though, because it was impossible to see anything on the screen. Trying to take a photo of a bird on a branch was a hit or miss affair, because it was impossible to distinguish the branch from the reflection of the frame of my glasses on the screen. We used to have an older digital camera which also had an optical viewfinder, but the newer ones don’t seem to have that feature.

Fish eagle

Fish eagle

There was a monitor lizard lying against a tree trunk, amazingly well camouflaged. It was almost exactly the same colour as the bark. We would never have spotted it if Salvation had not pointed it out. He is probably so familiar with the animals and birds on this stretch of river that he knows their favourite haunts and habits, but even so, it must be remarkably difficult to see.

Shakawe, Botswana, from the Okavango River

Shakawe, Botswana, from the Okavango River

We passed Shakawe village, and went on upstream, seeing an adult hippo and a couple of young ones. The adult hippo ran into the water almost as soon as we saw it, and then surfaced about halfway between us and the shore. I wondered if history would repeat itself, and whether we might enjoy the fate of George Bonfield 160 years ago.

Darter, sometimes called a "snake bird", because its neck looks a bit like a snake

Darter, sometimes called a “snake bird”, because its neck looks a bit like a snake

We had booked the boat for an hour, but extended our trip because it was so pleasant on the water that we extended it, and must have gone about 15 kilometres up the river. As we went we wondered how Fred Green had fared on the river. Below the Popa rapids, as above, the river flows at the rate of about 1-1,5 metres a second. With an outboard motor it was easy, but it must be more difficult if one was rowing. And back in those days the only power boats were ones with steam engines. Fuel would be no problem, but carrying a steam boat by ox-wagon from Walvis Bay would be quite a schlepp.

Hippo on the Okavango

Hippo on the Okavango

We saw some of the same creatures on the way back, and explored some side channels of the river, going around the islands.

Fish eagle

Fish eagle

Salvation dropped us back at the landing stage, apparently an old pont, at lunch time. I asked what his surname was, but it was a Yei name, and utterly unfamiliar to me, and as I had nothing to write it down with, I’d forgotten how to spell it five minutes later.

Salvation at the wheel

Salvation at the wheel

We had a drink on the veranda before lunch, and there were a bunch of other people there, apparently having a business meeting, and the dog with the ball was carrying it around hopefully, hinting that it needed to be thrown. She brought it to us once and I threw it for her.

Ball-obsessed dog

Ball-obsessed dog

The web site had told us that “Drotsky’s Cabins is a family business, and since it has been here for a long time, its owners are extremely knowledgeable about the Shakawe area, as well as the flora and fauna in this part of the Okavango Delta in Botswana” and also that “The bar at Drotsky’s Cabins is also frequented by locals, apart from tourists, so you are guaranteed to hear some fascinating stories about the Shakawe region of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.” I was rather disappointed that the guarantee was not fulfilled. I had rather hoped we might find someone to ask if there were any stories extant about the Green brothers, though of course Salvation had been knowledgable enough about the fauna of the delta.

Drotsky's Cabins - bar, lounge and dining room

Drotsky’s Cabins – bar, lounge and dining room

We spent most of the afternoon reading and relaxing, in the comfortable cabin. Though we have been on holiday, it has been quite a busy time with things to do and people to see or travelling taking up a lot of the time.

The story of our journey continues here.

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